Fire on dive boat Conception in CA

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Scared Silly

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BDSC, regrading the charging station perhaps another that will come out is that the power to charging station will be turned off during the night hours when few people are around to observe it. From say 10pm to 6am.

FWIW, All of the LOB I have been on have a dedicated charging station which one is required to use.
 
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First time post, long time diver (certified 1987, shot more Kodachrome underwater than I can count). I've followed this incident and thread since the beginning. A true tragedy, and my heart still aches for the familes, crew, owners, friends, and dive community. I wanted to add a few comments here (edit: removed reference to prior mentions of WaveDancer tragedy).

This is not the first mass-tragedy on a LOB. Another incident killed 20 people in the middle of the night, sleeping below-deck on an LOB, in which lack of eggress was a major contributing cause. It's incredibly surprising how few folks are aware of this incident. I frequented that boat several times; my LOB heyday was in the 80s through the early 2000s, I did 2/3 liveaboard trips every year. What incident was this? I'm talking about the Wavedancer tragedy in Belize on Oct. 8, 2001.

It's worth reading about this, and there's a dedicated web page to document the events. You won't find much more information, frankly, as the dive industry, dive publications, and the Belize government all conspired to bury this incident, and they've beem amazingly successful (and it didn't help that this occured less than a month after the events of 9-11). For example, DAN didn't even mention this tragedy in any of their newsletters, even though the entire Virginia dive club had acquired DAN insurance. There isn't even a Wikipedia page for this incident, that killed 17 Americans and 3 crew members. Putting the Wavedancer down the memory hole is a subtopic for discussion at another time, perhaps, but at a minimum, it appears the Conception tragedy won't suffer the same fate, given the wide initial coverage we've seen here.

The basic facts are the Wavedancer sought shelter from incoming hurricane Iris, and dithered as to where to seek safe shelter for over 2 days. Eventually, the captain decided to moor at a dock 2 miles up the Monkey River (about 75 miles south of Belize City), at Big Creek. The crew tied Wavedancer to the dock, and the Belize Aggressor III (another lob I've been on 3/4 times) tied up alongside. In the middle of the night, the storm surge came up the river. The Wavedancer was lifted hard onto the dock, straining the mooring lines. As the surge passed, the Wavedancer fell hard to her side, and capsized in 12 feet of water. The boat half-submerged, and the sleeping quarters went underwater. Most victims drowned, unable to escape. Many victims had head injuries and other injuries, consistent with violent movements of the boat itself.

The investigation of this disaster was headed by the Belize government, and it was a total sham. They eventually blamed the captain, who was initially held by the Belize government, but released when Peter Hughes (the boat's owner) came to Belize and lobbied for his release. The Captain quickly fled the country to his native New Zealand. The investigation didn't even interview the surviving passengers. They submitted written statements, which were held by the investigation for years and never publically disclosed.

What did we learn from this tragedy? Clearly, egress from cramped sleeping quarters in an emergency is a huge issue on these boats. I followed this tragedy closely back in 2001, as best I could. I kept thinking, how could scuba divers drown on a boat in 12 feet of water? I started bringing my small emergency air source into my cabin with me, a little self-contained pony bottle (Spare Air? I think). Those 3-5 minutes of air could be the difference between life and death in a lot of situations, I figured. I also kept my spare mask close-by, in my bunk.

Now, I have no idea if this would help those on the Conception. The fire must have been completely impassable and intense. We also know that fumes are often fatal before the flames. In this case, an independent air source might very well be the difference in managing an escape. It's certainly something to think about for yourself.

There's more comments to make here regarding egress vs. early detection, and I'm of the opinion that you can't engineer a perfect egress system. Hence, early fire detection (and prevention, of course) is the absolute key to avoiding this type of tragedy in the future. How do we detect these events? That's a complex problem that's going to need lots of careful assessment. Simple smoke detectors seem inadequate here, give the single-point-of-failure that a fast-growing fire in interior spaces on an LOB presents. I'm sure we'll have much discussion of this as the investigation proceeds.

Anyway, please excuse this long first post. I hope you familiarize yourself with the tragedy on the Wavedancer, and vow to not let the Conception tragedy face the same pressures that buried that earlier catastrophe in the dive community.
 

doctormike

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I actually don’t think waiting for all the facts to come out on an event like this is the best thing. If we did that, you would only need one post with an announcement of what happened and that would be it. Speculation can be a good thing. Maybe a life saving thing for the future.

I know for a fact that the next liveaboard I’m on where there is an escape hatch to the above deck, I will actually try out that hatch for myself and not just glance at where it is. If folks haven’t thought about it before, maybe they now carry a flashlight with them to their room at night. Perhaps liveaboards that in the past allowed charging in cabins as long as you are in the cabin will no longer allow that because it’s human nature to step out of your cabin and forget about batteries/lights/phones/computers that are hooked up. Maybe a lesson learned is for a night watch not just be awake but actually walk around every 15 minutes or so to keep a check on all areas of the boat.

Keep speculating folks because there is a lot to be learned from it.

I agree with this to a point. Clearly, wild and uninformed speculation based on nothing or conspiracy theories isn't helpful. But the whole point of the A&I forum is to learn from mistakes, and the vast majority of the threads here exist before anyone knows "all the facts". Just because the specific details of a specific accident point to one system failure, that doesn't mean that other system failures that are discussed in this context should be ignored.

Let's say the final report shows that there was heavy smoke in the berthroom long before the fire was apparent to the watch, and that everyone was dead in their bunks from inhalation, never waking up. Does that mean that emergency egress isn't important to optimize, just because it wouldn't have made a difference here?

Let's say that it turns out that it was a cigarette thrown onto some upholstery. Does that mean that lithium battery charging can go on as always?

As long as people don't become POV warriors, but listen to each other and to the people here with real experience and knowledge, a wide ranging discussion isn't the worst way to process this in the moment, when it's all in our thoughts.
 

bowlofpetunias

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A ScubaBoard Staff Message...


This summary updated 14 Sept 2019 Updates are also posted on page one of this thread. Please follow links and read surrounding posts to keep up to date.

It is always best to read an entire thread before commenting. Due to the length of this one we are providing & updating this summary for topics covered. We believe this information is credible but it can not be established as proven facts prior to completion of the investigation.

Please be kind when you post here remember the special rules and consider families, friends and survivors who are reading this. Consider Accidents and Incident Threads: Victim Perspective

We can not determine the cause here but discussing possibilities may help to prevent future tragedies.

34 Casualties DNA identified

Conception compliant met or exceeded applicable USCG requirements on last inspection implies approved; fire alarms, fire fighting equipment and escape routes

NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Preliminary Report
Preliminary Report: Marine DCA19MM047
Discussion points
  • concludes all crew sleeping
  • Statement in Preliminary Report says it may contain errors


Anchor Watch


Rough time line as reported
  • night dive time? commonly done by passengers; NO night dive by Crew
  • 2:30 crew member finished up in the galley verified heating elements were out and cold etc. Then went upstairs to bed. Not indicated if this was the designated Anchor Watch see
  • Between 3 and 3:14, a crew member awoke hearing a bang. He attempted to go down to investigate but stairs already afire.
  • 5 crew were in the wheelhouse two levels above the berth area. 1 crew member in the berth below did not survive.
  • crew jumped to deck, one broke leg other undisclosed ankle injuries
  • Captain first Mayday from Bridge documented 3:14
  • crew tried to reach the passengers from aft passage into the salon/galley then via forward front windows
  • forced from the boat by the fire some swam aft to the dingy & brought it alongside to rescue injured crew
  • sought help from nearby vessel Grape Escape Another Mayday call.

Most suspected causes of fire discussed
Battery discussions here

Original location of fire not yet established
  • former owner believes it started in passenger berth area
  • some believe it started in galley/salon area
Conception's layout and facilities
Exits from Dorm
  • main exit - stairs to starboard forward end of the dorm to the galley/salon.
  • emergency hatch above bunks at aft end of dorm exited in aft portion of the salon, just inside the passageway to the after deck.
  • no locked doors to the galley, salon or berth area.

The design of berth area and escape hatches discussed extensively. It meets current USCG standards which many believe may be changed as a result of this tragedy.

Excellent DAN article Mental Health post incident

Google Map link that shows Platt Harbor and the US Coast Guard Station, Channel Islands. Ventura and Santa Barbara are to the north

Related threads

A personal perspective on California Live-aboards
Discussion of legal aspects here
Condolences posted here
Donations here
 

Scuba-74

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I wanted to add a few comments that I'm suprised no one has raised in the now over 1150 responses here.

This is not the first mass-tragedy on a LOB. Another incident killed 20 people in the middle of the night, sleeping below-deck on an LOB, in which lack of eggress was a major contributing cause. It's incredibly surprising how few folks are aware of this incident, and it's not been raised once in this thread. I frequented that boat several times; my LOB heyday was in the 80s through the early 2000s, I did 2/3 liveaboard trips every year. What incident was this? I'm talking about the Wavedancer tragedy in Belize on Oct. 8, 2001.

Do a search on this thread, the Wave Dancer accident was referred to at least 3 times in this thread.
 
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Do a search on this thread, the Wave Dancer accident was referred to at least 3 times in this thread.

Thank you. I had searched for "Wavedancer", which returned nothing. "Wave Dancer" does show a few mentions. My mistake.
 

Tesibria

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martincohn

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The part that almost brought tears to my eyes (well maybe it actually did) was:
"The other crew at a certain point when the flames had engulfed the boat and they were in the water, they could see Jerry jump from the upper deck, a long jump. And there was a trail of smoke following him. They thought he was on fire"
The crew of this boat did everything humanly possible to save lives.

In a previous life as a firefighter for about 15 yrs. Been there done that. It sucks more than you can imagine...
 

Hiszpan

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3 thoughts I'm wondering about now:
- was there no fire extinguishers available at the top deck for the crew to use? Nothing's mentioned so far in all the interviews with them that they did use any to clear the way down to dive deck instead of jumping and then trying to clear at least the short distance from the galley door to escape hatch

- if there was a cellular coverage there, checking when did the mobile phones of the victims logged out of network could give some indication when did the fire start/consume the electronics

- I am o an opinion that regardless whether fire started in the galley or bunk area, passengers died in their sleep due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Gives me a bit of consolation knowing that the one of the last things they remembered doing was diving those beautiful islands...

p.s. please mods, let the discussion continue
 
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